Thursday, January 22, 2009

Himala sa Simala

Woke up earlier than usual on a Sunday morning for a visit to the Monastery of Holy Eucharist or Mother Mary Shrine in Marian Hills, Lindogon, Sibonga Town, Cebu. I accepted a friend's invitation knowing that I need to say some prayers.

Devotees from across the globe flock Simala bringing their faith and writing their petitions, longing for answered prayers and some miracle. The shrine became famous after word spread that the image of the Virgin Mary was seen shedding tears of blood, a phenomenon that lacks scientific or official church validation but nevertheless draws more and more people. But long before that, I have an aunt who have personal devotion to her for answering her prayer of bearing her only begotten child.

DIRECTIONS: It takes at least two hours to get to Sibonga from Cebu City Center via the South Reclamation Project (SRP). Head south of Cebu, upon reaching Carcar's rotunda, go straight. When you reach Sibonga, signs are visible, turn right and proceed on a long winding road uphill.

We parked the car outside, there are several private lots charging P40 parking fee. Noticeably, there are several restaurants, shops and dormitory sprouting outside the monastery.

Upon entering its gate, I was surprise to see a long queue of devotees along those concrete slopes and stairs, hundreds or maybe a thousand of them, patiently waiting for their turn to kiss the image inside the church.

We walked past them and proceeded uphill right outside the church where candles are being sold. Colored candles are available for sale at P35, each color representing your specific intention. Red for love, Green for prosperity, Brown for lifetime partner, Gold for good health, there's violet, yellow, blue and a lot more. Nevertheless, I assume God is color blind, whatever color your candle is, your prayers are heard. It was difficult to keep them alight with the wind blowing.
Colored candles symbolizes petition for:
• GOLD - HEALING (Good Health, Recovery, Spiritual, Family Tree)
• GREEN - PROSPERITY/SUCCESS (Exam, Study, Financial, Business)
• BLUE - PERSERVERANCE (Employment, Career, Assignment, Promotions)
• VIOLET - ACHIEVEMENT (Plans in life, Struggles, Endeavors, Journey, Voyage)
• RED - LOVE (Unity, Friendship, Engagement, Family)
• YELLOW - PEACE (Courage, Strength, Hope)
• WHITE - PURITY (Enlightenment, Guidance, Right path)
• ORANGE - RECONCILATION (Sweetheart, Wife/Husband, Enemy, Family)
• BLACK - SOULS (Forgiveness, Pardon)
• BROWN -VOCATION (Marriage bond, God’s Servant, Single life)
• GRAY - DELIVERANCE (Bad ways, Things, Spirits)
• CREAM - CONVERSION/FAITH (Children, Household, Couples)

Visitors and devotees who go to Simala are there to offer their petitions. Blank sheets of paper and pens on which to write their intentions are prepared by the Marian monks for one to drop in a box. I wrote mine while we were in the car. With a tougher year ahead, I never thought I had more than two things to ask.

The church exterior is imposing, sitting on a hill. It's relatively small inside considering its large facade. I wonder how they can house thousands of devotees for mass. (Plans are on its way of making a much bigger venue.) The interior is a work in progress. The ceiling work is done but some parts of the wall wasn't painted yet. The church is filled with wooden pews that look up to an elevated altar, where the miraculous statue of Mary is visible from afar. The stairs on the left are filled with people leading to the image. That's the same line on queue from the gate, that's several hours of waiting.

Note: Once inside the altar, visitors who wish to pay homage and kiss has to walk barefoot. Since the area is considered sacred ground, shoes and footwear have to be removed and modesty is part of the dress code. Wearing of shorts, body-hugging blouses or sleeveless shirts is not allowed. Visitors who come dressed in this attire are asked to cover up with sarongs or malongs, prepared by the monks at the entrance.

After our prayers have been said, we walked back down hill, detoured on a bell on the right. It's a wishing bell! One has to let a coin bounce on that bell and it should fall into the well infront of it. TIP: Don't hit the bell too hard, you're coin will definitely bounce outside to an opposite direction. Throw it gently on the center body of the bell, it will just slide down from its body into the well. It's simply physics but not everyone can do it. ;)

These practices will definitely raise eyebrows. I'm Catholic and I'm quite surprised. It was my first time there so I was quite observant with what was happening. At the end of the day, what matters most is the faith that Mother Mary prays for us and that Jesus hears our prayers.

M-F: 12nn, Saturdays: 1030am, Sundays: 330pm
1030-1130pm and 330-430pm every 13th of the month.


Sacred Heart Church, D. Jakosalem
6,8,930,11,^6,730 (Anticipated: 6)

Redemptorist Church
5*,6*,7,815,930,1045,^330*,445,6,715 (Anticipated:530,645)

Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Asilo dela Milagrosa, Gorordo, Lahug
6,7,^530 (Anticipated: 530)

Capitol Church
7,11,^4,7 (Anticipated: 530)

St. Therese, Lahug
530*,7,9,1030*,^4,530*,7* (Anticipated: 6)

Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino
530*,7*,830,10*,1130,^230*,4*,530,7 (Anticipated: 530)

*Cebuano masses (unmarked are english masses)
^afternoon onwards

For other churches around the Philippines check out this site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flying to Coron, Busuanga

In my recent trip to Coron, Busuanga, I redeemed a travel voucher with Cebu Pacific from my previous failed trip. True to their word, I didn't have to pay a single cent for that. I only had to make a phone reservation, email the travel voucher (and present them during check-in) and got the email confirmation four hours later. Anxious about their customer service performance record, we arrived at the airport two hours before the flight. I guess my fate has changed, we met no problem. Except for the long queue for security check early in the morning.

The plane left on time. The plane was almost full, passengers were even seated on stewardess seats while stewardess were seated in the middle fronting the aisle on make-shift seats! Wow, this budget airline has its way of maximing its capacity.

In all the flights I've been to across the world, the door to the lavatory is faced on the side of plane. But on this plane, the lavatory is at the tail end. I was facing its tail end trying to open the door, I had to look at the stewardess for assurance that what I'm doing was right and got a nod from them. Not seeing what's behind that door, I could only imagine I can be suctioned out of the plane when I open the door. LOL paranoia!

While waiting for the luggages to be out, arrival card needs to be filled up at the arrival hall. A lady came to distribute and collected them after.

It took a while before luggages were out, there is no conveyor belt, luggages were lined one by one on a platform just like in many provincial airports in the country.

Out of the airport, several drivers are holding on placards of names of passengers or resort destinations. After a while our host came to meet us, whew! I thought she didn't get my message, I was trying to reach her before the flight but she can't be reached. Apparently, mobile phone signal in the area is weak.

Flying out of Busuanga, we took PAL Express. Check through to PAL flights was not allowed. I was expecting a new plane like we had in Caticlan (Boracay) but it wasn't. The plane arrived late thus, our flight departed late too but it wasn't a long wait.


Small low flying planes fly from Manila to Busuanga Airport via PAL, Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways and Seair (while passesnger vessels of Superferry docks in Coron Town after 12 hours at sea). Flights are almost an hour except for Seair's Donier that only takes 35 minutes. (get 15% discount on seair flights HERE.)

Baggage allowance is limited to 10kgs for PAL, Zest Airways and Seair and 15kgs for Cebu Pacific. Excess baggage is charged between 80 to 100 pesos per kilogram.

There are several vans by airlines, resorts or simply awaiting for passengers to be transferred to Coron Town. They charge P150 per pax for shared transfers and P1,500 per van for private transfers. Coron Town is about 45 minutes away from the airport crossing on bumpy road with mountain view along an animal ranch. Concreting of roads is on its way, this should cut travel time further.

See my Calamian Islands Travel Guide: Coron, Busuanga, Calauit, Maricaban.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Calamian Islands, Northern Palawan Travel Guide: Club Paradise, Maricaban, Calauit, Coron, Busuanga

Just like any tourist, I was quite confused with the sights to see in Palawan. I had to see the map before I understood it's geography. Palawan is a huge archipelago, it may take a month to visit the whole island. Puerto Princessa (PP) is at it's center, it is the jump off point for Honda Bay Island Hopping and 7 wonders of the world nominee Underground River Tour. From PP, El Nido is two hours away by land + short boat transfers while Coron is ten hours away by big passenger vessel and Tubbataha Marine Park is twelve hours by boat.

These three main tourist destinations of Palawan can now be reached by plane. PP and Coron (via Busuanga) via flagship airline PAL, or Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways & Seair. While El Nido can be reached by Seair or charter flights on Island Transvoyager. Since these are small aircraft, free luggage allowance is limited to 10 to 15 kilograms. Click link for more info on flying to Busuanga.

This is probably the most difficult trip I've organized simply because I wanted to make an itinerary that's off the beaten path. There is limited information on the net, most sites offer tour packages rather than helpful hints and contact information. Mobile phone signal is weak in some areas, it took me some ten tries before I could reach the contacts. Since we have only four days to spare, we've trimmed down the trip to two islands of Calamian Islands, Northern Palawan. Calamian Islands, consists of Busuanga Island, Coron Island, Calauit Island, Culion Island and other neighboring islands. The locals discouraged us to push through our initial plan of cruising around Busuanga Island for three days due to strong northeastern winds (Amihan) in January, so we decided to skip Gutob Bay and came up with plan B:

Day 1 Getting to Club Paradise Resort
Busuanga Airport - Maricaban Bay - Dimakya Island - Maricaban Bay

Planes fly from Manila to Busuanga Airport via PAL, Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways and Seair (while passesnger vessels of Superferry docks in Coron Town). There are several vans awaiting for passengers to be transferred to Coron Town for P150 per pax or P1,500 per van.

Since we wanted to visit Club Paradise, we went straight to Maricaban Bay. We were met at the airport by our host, Vicky Hefti of Vicky's Lodging House. Her place is an hour away from the the airport, a fishing village, the jump-off point to Club Paradise, Dimakya Island.

Day use at Club Paradise costs P2,500 inclusive of airport transfers, lunch buffet, and use of facilities. It's a rated AAA resort, which costs as much as $300/night during peak season. Alternatively, we had our lunch at Vicky's Lodging House for P250 and booked a boat through Vicky's/Dugong Dive Center to bring us to Club Paradise. Round trip boat transfers is at P900/pax plus $10/pax day use fee at Club Paradise.

After lunch, on board fiberglass diving boat Tashina, we were cruising Maricaban Bay. Lovely view of the mountain on one side, a couple of inhabited islands on the other. We cruised passed El Rio Y Mar and Isla Walang Lang-aw. We reached Club Paradise, Dimakya Island, thirty minutes later. We were met with inviting clear blue sea and white sands, I've never seen such clear blue sea water! We had to transfer to a chase boat to get to the shore, one by one we had to time our entry with the strong breaks. It caught me, so I was literally pushed to shore with the guide holding me tightly, obviously, I got soaked (but we all had a good laugh)!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pit Senyor! Sinulog 2009

Cebu's largest annual event, Sinulog Festival is coming up this Sunday. The streets are now packed with cars and people. Good thing I paid homage early on. It is customary for Cebuanos to visit Sr. Sto. Nino's image at the Basilica. Queque extends upto the church grounds, waiting time of an hour is already short.

Sinulog, syagit ug kusog, Pit Senyor! Pit Senyor! tanan magsaulog! is the song you hear everywhere during this time of the year.

Sinulog is celebrated for nine days with two major activities as highlights –a religious procession on Saturday and grand street parade on Sunday. It got its name from a ritual dance in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño.

Schedule of activities for Sinulog 2009:

January 17, 2009 (Saturday)
6am - Fluvial Procession of the Miraculous Image of Sto. Niño together with Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mactan Channel; starting point: Ouano Wharf, Mandaue City)
9am - Re-enactment of the Baptism of Queen Juana and Rajah Humabon (Basilica del Sto. Niño)
2pm - Solemn Procession of the Miraculous Image of Sto. Niño)
6:30pm - Sinulog Festival Queen 2009 (Cebu City Sports Center)
7pm - Street Party (Fuente Osmeña and Plaza Independencia)
8pm - Kasadya Nite Mardi Gras (Ayala Center Cebu hallways; culmination at the South Surface Parking Area)

January 18, 2009 (Sunday) - Sinulog 2009 Grand Parade
9am - Sinulog 2009 Grand Parade Carousel Kick Off
7pm - Grand Fireworks Display (Cebu City Sports Center a.k.a. Abellana and Plaza Independencia)
7:30pm - Concert by Street Party Bands (Fuente Osmeña)
8pm - Grand Fireworks Display sponsored by the Mitsumi Group of Companies (Ayala Football Grounds)

January 19, 2009 (Monday)
1pm - Awarding Ceremonies (Cebu City Sports Center a.k.a. Abellana)

January 31, 2009 (Saturday)
1pm - Awarding Ceremonies for the winners of the Sinulog 2009 Photo Contest and Sinulog 2009 Video Documentary Contest

Monday, January 12, 2009

Travel Photography Workshop

Photoholic Ilocos is a trip to Ilocos organized by Travel Factor. Photoholics is a modern day linggo which refers to those addicts to face the camera or take photographs. It started out as a venue for knowledge sharing among hobbyist.

A big plus to the trip was their first ever photography workshop facilitated by Cedric Valera. I love to travel and learning to love photography. What could be better than having both at the same time. Undeniably, having a digital camera is fast becoming like having a mobile phone.

I had to borrow a DSLR for the trip and had to cram reading the manual before we left. For someone who had no background on digital photography, I was challenged and at times frustrated by the workshop not to mention the assignment that went with it. Sir Ced have shared a lot of travel photography tips and he has successfully shared those with his bubbly self and got away with critiquing our shots with his funny antics!

Let me share some tips I learned during the workshop:

F16 1/250 ISO 200 is the best exposure for daylight in travel photography.

(from speak:

f4.5 = SMALL DEPTH OF FIELD = Best for portraits
f8.0 = MEDIUM DEPTH OF FIELD = Good for most shots
f22 = LARGE DEPTH OF FIELD = Best for landscapes

2000 - 4000 Very fast. (for flying animals.)
500 - 1000 Fast shutter. (for playing kids.)
125 - 500 Moderate shutter speed. (portrait.)
8 - 60 Slow shutter speed with tripod. (show movement)
8" - 30" Very slow shutter speed with tripod. (night shoot)

Watch out for CHISMIS: these are distracting elements of a photograph. (Calle Crisologo)

Watch out for CHISMIS: these are abruptly cut subject. (Bangui Windmills)

Set CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE for night shoot. CWB sets the benchmark of white in a different lighting condition.(Calle Crisologo, by Ced Valera).

Go for silhoutte on backlight (against the light). First meter the sky then shoot the subject. The subject must appear dark for a perfect silhoutte, no details just outline. (Paoay Church)

Take note the intersecting lines of the RULE OF THIRDS.

Portraiture: The eye shall intersect the lines on rule of thirds. Watch out for growing objects on the head. Don't cut on the joints. (Saud Beach, Pagudpud)

Landscape: the horizon can be horizontally on the upper or lower thirds. (Bantay Abot)

Look out for patterns. (Vigan Pottery)

Play with shadows. (Cobblestones of Vigan)

Center Balance for doors and windows. (Paoay Church)

The angle tells a story, it projects different levels of respect or social status. In portraiture, respect is key and consent may be necessary.(Kabigan Falls)

Staircases are emo. Leading lines shall start at the corner. It leads and draws the eye to the subject. (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)

Look for patterns and details. (Paoay Church)

Leading lines (river) lead to the subject. (Capurpurawan Rock)


After all that has been learned, I've come to realize it's not so much on the arrow, but it's the Indian.

I love the experience, I'm excited for another travel photography workshop in Batanes with Mandy Navasero next month. :D

Note: Pictures taken with Nikon D40.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

For Whatever Reason

Time heals

Priorities change

Relationships grow

Mood swings

Awkwardness fall

They come and go

Words unspoken

Action speaks

For whatever reason

I'm missing the old you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Road Trip to Ilocandia

Ilocos has not been in my wow Philippines wish list, but when I bumped into Travel Factor’s post on Photoholic Ilocos: Travel Photography Workshop, I'm off to Ilocos sooner than I thought. Thanks too to President Arroyo's holiday economics.

Travel Factor is a budget tour organizer that has attracted a lot of young wanderlust like me. It’s my first time to join them and I’m quite impressed. Leia, the owner, who’s a wanderlust herself, lead the group, and she is really accommodating and treated everyone like friends. Solo travelers were grouped together which saves them from being out of place while small groups were matched with another small group. It was well organized. Detailed itinerary, things to brings, reminders & tips were sent out two days before the trip. Joiners were given IDs, assigned seat number (for the bus) and roommates. Nevertheless it still maintained a certain level of flexibility.

It was a joy being around this group of 40 - about 13 Filipino-Chinese, 1 Indian, and the rest Pinoy. I thought it's going to be difficult to move around and take decent photos with a big group, but not when you're with photoholics. It was like a battlefield, where each finds his own little nook to get that perfect shot. No one was rowdy, everyone was out to enjoy the sites, learn travel photography and meet new friends.

Day 01 Vigan

After nine long hours on rough roads aboard the private overnight bus from Manila with an inflatable neck pillow and a jacket, we reached St. Augustine Church of Batay & Bell Tower around seven in the morning. Frankly, I’m not quite sure if I fell asleep!

We checked-in in Villa Angela, Vigan, Ilocos Sur. It's a 135 year old ancestral home, formerly the house of a Kapitan Silio (Mayor). Our guide hinted about haunted stories, all I can do is pray for a long good sleep when evening comes and not wake up having the need to go to the bathroom located outside on the balcony.

L-R Calle Crisologo, St. Paul's Cathedral, Villa Angela, Cobblestones, Calle Crisologo, Pottery making, Bantay Bell Tower

Aside from pottery making, Vigan is best known for being listed as UNESCO World Heritage for its best preserved 16th century planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. It’s a pretty small town, a walking tour can be over in a hour or two. We were left on our own to wander around Plaza Burgos, Plaza Salcedo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Calle Crisologo. It has its own beauty - quiet, quaint, plain and simple unlike Macau’s elaborate architecture and bustling streets swarmed by tourists.

With an hour left before dinner time, we opted to go on a side trip to Chavit Singson’s Baluarte which is about forty pesos and fifteen minutes away by trike. Entrance is free. Unlike the usual zoo, the animals here (ostrich, camels, ducks, pony, deers…) are free to roam (except of course for the tigers) and visitors are free to touch and feed them. The caretakers shoo away the animals by stamping their feet. Voila! The animals were rushing while we were in the middle of them. We can’t help but panic for a second thinking “it’s stampede!” and rush to find shelter by the nearest fence. Little do we know, these animals were rushing to their respective barns/areas since it’s feeding/closing time, whew!

As we head towards where the tricycles are parked, we found a vendor with empanadas. His warm hospitality lured us to try a piece of special empanada and even gave us the regular one for free and insisted we sit on their table. Vigan empanda is stuffed with sliced cabbage, longganisa and more, with wrappings made out of rice - deep fried to crisp, it tasted really good.

We headed back to Calle Crisologo for some night shoot. After a long day, I had a good night sleep on that four poster bed of Villa Angela.

Day 02 Paoay - Laoag - Burgos - Bangui

It’s another early day, as the bus head on a long ride to Paoay Church, Paoay and a short stop at the Sand Dunes of Laoag. The sand dunes is dubbed by Lonely Planet as the only one in the country. On these sand dunes, a few grass has sprouted and talks had it that it will soon be converted into a residential area.

Single serve buffet lunch was served at MACVN Food House in a quiet town of Burgos. It’s a small eatery but in fairness, our tables were set with tablecloth! Seems like they have catered to a lot of artists with the likes of Regine Velasquez, Jericho Rosales and Heart Evangelista, shooting on location with the numerous pictures hanging there.

Next stop was, Capurpurawan Rock named after “puraw” which means white should be my fave stop. After some ten minute trike ride from the jump-off point was a spectacular view of mountains on one side, the South China Sea and the Capurpurawan Rock on the other. It took another fifteen minutes of easy trek down, over rocks and roots to get to it. The ambience was just perfect with sunny skies, strong cool winds, sounds of raging waters occasionally splashing on non-suspecting travelers, what else could you ask for?

In a town so small the guide knew a bus load of girlscouts were coming, true enough they did, hundreds of them, just in time for us to move to Cape Bojeador’s Lighthouse. It was another trike ride uphill from the jump-off point. We got to the top and it’s one eerie old structure I must say.

We can’t stay for long since we had to catch the sunset at Bangui Windmills. These windmills are so tall and huge that stood by the seaside. The wind was harsh sweeping the coarse beach sand in the air and onto your skin. It’s a must to keep your jacket, shades and long pants on. Just before the sun sets, the weather failed us, it began to drizzle.

L-R Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Bangui Windmills, Paoay Church, Capurpurawan Rock

We head to Polaris Beach House in Pagudpud where we will stay for the night. After another long day, the food wasn’t enough to fill us up, we would have wanted to try out bagnet but it was not available, an order of grilled liempo came an hour later. It is customary for food to served that long in provinces they say, inherent in a laid back lifestyle.

Day 03 Kabigan Falls, Pagudpud

It was a 30 minute trek on occasional slippery rock / mud, crossing slightly strong current of the stream for at least three times before one gets to the enchanting Kabigan Falls, the trekking shoes I brought was just apt for this activity. The rangers served as human rope line making sure no one slips especially with a camera in tow. I enjoyed the trek back halfway alone, taking pictures here and there.

L-R Bantay Abot, Maira-ira Blue Lagoon, Kabigan Falls, Patapat Bridge, Polaris Resort

The rest of the day was spent hopping in and out of the bus, sight seeing around Bantay Abot, Patapat Viaduct & Aqua Grande and beach hopping in Maira-ira Blue Lagoon and Saud Beach. The cool weather and drizzling afternoon wasn’t inviting for a swim but for a nap instead.

After dinner, we head south for an 8-hour long road trip back to Manila. It was a hell of a ride, the bus was drifting in those bumpy winding roads that woke me up every so often. By midnight we reached Vigan and picked up the longganisa and vinegar by Villa Angela and stopped at the 24-hour pasalubong center - Marsha's Delicacies for some royal bibingka and chichacorn. It was around 8 in the morning when we were awaken by the bustling city and traffic of Manila. I was amazed by the long queue at the MRT station that was overflowing out on the streets. It must be sheer luck to get to work on time after a long weekend.

L-R Empanada, Coconut, Longganisa and Egg, Bagnet, Tilapia and Tomatoes, Chichacorn, Royal Bibingka

P6000 full board and lodging (6 or more in a room) with travel photography workshop
P 267 room upgrade to triple share
P1576 roundtrip airfare from Cebu to Manila on PAL's econolyt
P 400 terminal fee

Thursday, January 8, 2009

10 More Long Holidays for 2009

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed on December 24, 2008, Proclamation 1699 that lays out the holiday schedule for this year.

Consistent with the President's advocacy of holiday economics to boost domestic tourism and to allow Filipinos to have more time with their families, there will be ten long holidays in 2009.

Holiday economics entails the transfer of some holidays so that Filipinos may enjoy longer weekends. Last year, non religious holidays are moved to the nearest Monday while this year, it's retained or moved to the nearest Monday or Friday. Moving it to a Friday would benefit only government employees and a few private sector with no Saturday work.

( 1)Apr 6 (Mon) - Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) in lieu of April 9
( 2)Apr 9-12 (Thu-Sun)) - four-day Easter holidays
( 3)May 01 (Fri) - Labor Day
( 4)Jun 12 (Fri) - Independence Day
( 5)Aug 21 (Fri) - Ninoy Aquino Day*
( 6)Aug 31 (Mon) - National Heroes Day
( 7)Nov 01 (Sun) - All Saints Day*
Nov 02 (Mon) - All Souls Day*
( 8)Nov 30 (Mon) - Bonifacio Day
( 9)Dec 24 (Thu) - Christmas Eve*
Dec 25 (Fri) - Christmas Day
(10)Dec 30 (Wed) - Rizal Day
Dec 31 (Thu) - New Year's Eve*

*Special Non-Working Days

There is no mention as to declaration of Feb 25 Edsa Revolution Day as special non-working day and date of Eidl Fitr is yet to be announced.

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